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The Disfigured Face

Traditional Natural Law and Its Encounter with Modernity

Luis Cortest

Publication Year: 2008

The central argument of this book is that the traditional notion of Natural Law has almost disappeared from the ethical and moral discourse of our time. For Thomas Aquinas, the author whose conception of Natural Law forms the foundation for the book, the ontological and ethical orders are not autonomous but inseparable-in effect, his ethical system is an ontological morality.For Thomas, the ethical (practical wisdom) must be understood as an extension of the metaphysical (speculative wisdom). Most modern philosophers, by contrast, consider these two orders to be entirely separate. Here Luis Cortest shows how traditional Natural Law (the form Thomas Aquinas developed from classical and medieval sources) was transformed by thinkers like John Locke and Kant into a doctrine compatible with early modern and modern notions of nature and morality. In early Modern Europe one of the first of the great debates about moral philosophy took place in sixteenth-century Spain, as a philosophical dispute concerning the humanity of the Native Americans. This foreshadowed debates in later centuries, which the author reevaluates in light of these earlier sources. The book also includes a close examination of the recent work of scholars like John Finnis and Brian Tierney, who argue that traditional Natural Law theorists were defenders of a doctrine of positive rights. Rather than attempt to make the traditional doctrine compatible with modern rights theory, however, the author argues that traditional Natural Law must be understood as a form of pre-Enlightenment ontological morality that has survived the onslaught of modernity.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xx

On May 5, 1888, Pope Leo XIII issued one of his lesser-known encyclicals, In Plurimis.1 This document, written in part to express the Roman pontiff ’s personal joy on hearing of the legal abolition of slavery in Brazil, includes a memorable description...

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Chapter One: Thomistic Ontology

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pp. 1-13

Before we can begin to examine Thomistic moral philosophy and its relationship to modern ethical systems, it is imperative that we understand the distinguishing feature of Thomas’s moral thought, its ontological foundation. Ontology, in simple...

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Chapter Two: Ontological Morality and Human Rights

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pp. 14-29

Thomas Aquinas strongly defended the notion that morality is grounded in nature and being. Thomas’s position is that moral action must be understood in terms of the rational nature of human beings. In this sense, nature itself is the model for moral...

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Chapter Three: The War of the Philosophers

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pp. 30-49

Thomistic ontological morality has a long history. The battles waged over moral questions during the Middle Ages served as basic training for the wars that would be waged centuries later. If one can speak of moral debates in military...

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Chapter Four: The Modern Way

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pp. 50-64

The last half of the seventeenth century in Europe represents a time of great change in the history of positive human rights. Many of the most fundamental ideas that characterize modern human rights doctrine were either first formulated during...

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Chapter Five: Pope Leo XIII and His Legacy

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pp. 65-76

Although it would be wrong to imagine that there were not many philosophical currents vying for ascendancy in the fi rst decades of the nineteenth century, it is clear from the previous chapter that empiricism, Kantianism, and Hegelianism were...

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Chapter Six: The Survival of Tradition

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pp. 77-102

One of those teachers selected by Pope Leo “to implant the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas in the minds of students” was a Belgian priest named Desiré Joseph Mercier. Mercier was only twenty-eight years old when...


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pp. 103-122


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pp. 123-130


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pp. 131-136

E-ISBN-13: 9780823247721
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823228539
Print-ISBN-10: 0823228533

Page Count: 144
Publication Year: 2008